Friday, February 22, 2013

It's Not You. It's Me. (My Quest to Find a Book I Like)

Lately, I've had a rocky relationship with reading. For several months nearly every book I picked up was a big miss for me. I felt like I was on a string of bad blind dates (not that I've ever been a blind date. But I can imagine the feeling.) You hear about the person from a friend. Or maybe you meet him online. You have high hopes that you'll hit it off. You really really want to like him. And then you meet, and for whatever reason, you just don't click.

I am not a picky reader! I've read and enjoyed all kinds of books. Classics. Literary fiction. Lots of young adult stuff because I write YA books and I like to know what my fellow YA writers are writing. I also read non-fiction. Memoirs. Mysteries. Romances. Whatever. As long as there's a decent story at the core, I'll give it a chance. Confession: I read the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. I'm not particularly proud of this fact, but I'm telling you to prove that I have never been hard to please.

And yet, I was starting to reconsider everything I believed about myself as a reader. Books had become a struggle. I felt like I'd read them before. I knew where they were going. The characters didn't seem like real people. I didn't care what happened to them. The writing wasn't great or it was downright bad. I found myself revising passages in my head. Why did the author use the word "murmur" 13 times in the last five pages? Did she really need to include a particular scene? And why was there another teen boy love interest described as having "piercing green eyes"? Do I know ANY guys with piercing green eyes?

Book after book after book had me feeling the same thing: a flash of hope and then the inevitable letdown when it didn't live up to the potentially promising premise.

OMG, I thought. Was I losing my ability to enjoy a book? Had I read too many books over the course of my lifetime and therefore read every possible scenario? Or was this condition a result of my work as a writer? I know how books are put together now. I've seen the man behind the curtain. Questioning every authorial decision and editing paragraphs as you read, let me tell you, tends to pull a reader out of the story.

Or what if my problem was a change in my brain chemistry? My computer science-y son had shared a study with me about the impact of internet surfing on the human brain. Apparently, we're losing our ability to focus, to read larger chunks of material. It's all that jumping around we do from website to website. All that tweeting. I confided my fears to my husband and he laughed. "Your brain chemistry has changed in the last two months?" he said. Okay. Maybe that was a stretch.

All I knew was that I didn't like books anymore, that I couldn't seem to read without pausing after every other sentence. Maybe I needed to stop reading. Or at least take a break from it. Give my twitchy tweeting brain a rest.

And then I happened to pick up a book. This was one from my stack, a book I'd been meaning to read for months, the popular and critically acclaimed dystopian novel Divergent by Veronica Roth. I read it in one sitting on plane trip. Huh. It was good. From the very first page I was hooked. On the plane trip home I read another book, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, which also turned out to be absorbing and thought provoking. At home I picked up other books. They were good too. More than good. I practically cried in relief. I hadn't lost my ability to read books. I had lost my ability to read bad ones.

It wasn't me. It was them.

Which sounds snotty, I know. So I'll say it a different way: It's not them. It's me. Apparently, I AM a picky reader. What I've realized the past few months is that some books do it for me, and some don't.

Here's a rundown of the ones that clicked:

Divergent, Veronica Roth. It's no accident that this book and the sequel Insurgent are on YA best seller lists. I've grown weary of dystopian lit, but this book reeled me back into the genre. Main character Tris has grown up in an orderly world where people are divided into groups based on the personality traits they value. There's an honest group, risk-takers, scholars, and Tris's group--which promotes selfless behavior. At sixteen you take a test and choose which faction you'd like to join. But what happens if you don't quite fit into any of these? Weeks later, I'm still thinking about the societal questions this novel raises.

Ask the Passengers, A. S. King. Still wrapping my mind around this one. Brilliant. Should've won an award this year. I don't know why it didn't.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Carolyn Mackler. Not sure how I missed this one along the way. It won a Printz Honor in 2003. It features a self conscious and self deprecating teen girl's attempt to assert herself and figure out her place in a dysfunctional family. Funny and sad and ultimately inspiring.

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson. I love all of Anderson's realistic contemporary YA novels, so it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that I'd love this one too. I think I'd put it off because I knew it was about anorexia and it might be painful to read. It sort of was. But so beautifully written and heartbreaking and somehow hopeful too.

Try Not to Breathe, Jennifer R. Hubbard. Absorbing story about a teen boy dealing with the ramifications of a suicide attempt and his relationship with a cool quirky girl who's looking for her own answers.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. I read this one for my book club and it was a total page turner. Told from two points of view. A man's wife goes missing and he's the main suspect. You get the feeling he's keeping secrets as he tells his side, but his wife has secrets too. The reader gets HER point of view from the pages of her diary. Brilliantly plotted with shocking twists and unlikeable characters that you somehow root for anyway.

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti. A spot-on description of toxic love. Ruby's mom struggles to let go of charming but irresponsible dad. Ruby struggles to let go of Travis, a charming rich boy who draws her into his reckless and dangerous world. All the characters are complex and realistic, including the dog, Poe, who has got to be one of the most adorably destructive dogs in YA fiction.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. If you're having trouble, too, connecting with books, this might be the perfect antidote. It is a book with no words. It's shelved as a children's picture book or graphic novel, but it transcends any genre. It's the story of a man who leaves his family behind to start life in a new country, a country that sort of looks like America at the turn of the century. Except it's not. A few pages in, you will forget there are no words and fall under its spell.

Which--and I don't care how picky this makes me--is the only thing I ask for in a book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Please Buy My Mulch, Er, I Mean, Please Read My Book

A few years ago when we moved to our lovely little Ohio town, my son, then in 8th grade, went out for the lacrosse team. The sport is a big deal around here, and although my son had never seen a game played before, he borrowed a stick and a ball and a big net, and started practicing in the backyard. It's a hard sport, apparently, to pick up in a couple of months, and he didn't make the team.

In ninth grade he tried out again. No cuts for freshmen, the coaches assured the kids, but they would have to participate in a team bonding activity before the try-outs: sell 200 bags of mulch at 4 bucks a pop within one week. This directive came down in January when it happened to be 10 degrees outside.

Let me say here that I HATE fundraisers. Wrapping paper, cookie dough, candy bars, magazines, whatever. I sympathize with schools and clubs having to raise money, but I hate that kids (and parents) get roped into being salespeople for overpriced products. I was never the mom pushing my kid out the door to hawk that stuff to the neighbors, and my husband never schlepped the packets to his office to hit up his co-workers. We either wrote a check and ate the freaking candy bars ourselves or donated the money they expected our kid to raise.

But that day in January, I could see there was no way we could afford 800+ dollars worth of mulch. Never mind that we had nowhere to put 200 bags of the stuff. I pushed my son out the door.

Most of the neighbors turned out to be pretty cool about it. The lacrosse mulch sale is a known tradition around here, and they must've felt bad for the lanky kid shivering on their doorstop. He sold his quota and my husband and I resolved to buy every kid on the street's candy bars until the end of time.

The next year when he tried out for the team, I shoved him out the door again. He sold his quota, and then he got cut. That was pretty devastating for him and it wasn't much consolation when the kids who made the team delivered the over-priced mulch to all our neighbors.

Year three, I was proud of my son for trying out again and sympathetic when he brought home that damn mulch packet for a third time, but geez! How much mulch did our poor neighbors need? And what kind of team bonding activity is it when you're not actually on the team?  

He got cut again. Which was really cruddy but a good learning experience--blah blah resiliency and hard work and pursuing a dream and living through rejection, yadda yadda, but I must admit that every spring when I see those mulch trucks zooming around town, I feel a surge of yucky feelings.

It's hard to put yourself out there and ask for something--something that's kind of a big deal--something that makes another person feel obligated to say yes, or worse, no to you.

I didn't mean to spend so much time writing about mulch. What I really want to talk about is how I felt asking authors I respect and admire if they would read my forthcoming book Thin Space and possibly write a blurb about it.

My publisher suggested I do this many months ago but it took me a long while to gear myself up to ask anyone. I didn't want to put people on the spot. Asking someone to take the time to read my book is a big enough imposition but then asking them to put their name on an endorsement is even bigger. And what if they didn't like my book? Would they feel weird telling me?

When I finally pushed myself out that metaphorical door, I was shivering and clinging to my mulch packet--I mean, my book. But like my kind neighbors, the writers I asked were cool. More than cool. They seemed flattered that I asked them. They were prompt in their responses. Only one person said no, and he was sweet and apologetic about it. The others said yes. They promised to be honest. One told me, "Hey, if I love it, I'll blurb it, and if I don't, I'll keep my mouth shut!"

There's a lesson in here. Sometimes you've got to swallow your pride and put yourself out there. People are kind. They like to help when asked. And things have a way of working out well in the end.

My son never made the lacrosse team after ninth grade, but he did parlay that experience into a kick-butt college essay that caught the eye of the admission counselors at the college of his dreams. Our neighbors have stunning flower beds filled with the highest quality mulch. And I got three endorsements for my book from writers I love. Please check out their books:

Jennifer Castle's moving and beautifully written The Beginning of After and her soon-to-be released You Look Different in Real Life.

The absorbing and heartbreaking debut What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton.

Mike Mullin's edge-of-your-seat page turner Ashfall and the riveting sequel Ashen Winter.

And if you want to see these awesome writers' blurbs of Thin Space, click here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Interview with Holly Schindler

Last summer I got the coolest email out of the blue, an invitation to join the Young Adult group author blog YA Outside the Lines. The administrator is YA and Middle Grade writer Holly Schindler. At that point, I hadn't yet stumbled onto this blog  (although I was familiar with Holly's other blog Smack Dab in the Middle). YAOTL operates the same way: each month members contribute a post on a particular theme. I have no idea why Holly thought to ask ME to join, but I am eternally grateful.

What an awesome, eclectic, brilliant, creative, supportive group of writers! Some I had heard of before joining--Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay it Forward), Rosemary Clement-Moore (The Splendor Falls), and Cheryl Renee Herbsman (Breathing). Now I'm reading my way through the others and feeling like a gushy fan. My faves so far: Patty Blount (Send), Kimberly Sabatini (Touching the Surface), Jennifer L. Armentrout (Obsidian), and Holly Schindler, our hardworking administrator. I picked up her book first, A Blue So Dark and was blown away.

The main character, 15-year-old Aura, is an artist struggling to take care of her mom, (also an artist) who's schizophrenic and spinning out of control. There's a core story here about mother/daughter relationships and the desire to break away from home while at the same time longing to fix a suffering loved one's problems. The book raises thought-provoking questions about the interplay of creativity and madness and the healing power of art.

I'm thrilled that Holly's agreed to let me interview her. It's not every day that you get to chat with the author of a book you love!

Jody: Holly, I'm going to start with the question I ask every visiting writer: Where do you get your ideas?

Holly: I’m a complete idea junkie.  I get more ideas than I know what to do with.  That sounds like a real luxury, I know—but in the beginning, it was tough.  I’d get about a quarter of the way through a book, and I’d be struck by one of those ah-ha! moments… combine that with the fact that I love writing beginnings and find middles a little torturous, and I was having problems staying focused on one project.  I tried all sorts of methods to deal with my ideas, even drafting multiple projects, but that proved to be more trouble than it was worth.

In the end, I figured out that I needed to keep a notebook.  While I’m drafting (or revising) one book, I write any new ideas down in my notebook.  Then I get right back to work on my current WIP.  A simple fix, I know—but it’s truly the best way to stay focused on my current idea and let me rest assured that I won’t lose any new ideas!

Jody: Once you've chosen an idea to play around with, what's your next step? Do you outline? Or just start writing and see where the story goes?

Holly: I always work from pretty extensive plot outlines… but I think you have to be aware, as a writer, when your characters are shaking their heads at you, telling you that your plan is a bunch of bunk.  You have to be willing to let your characters guide you, take you on a detour—you have to be open-minded about revising your outline along the way.

Jody: Very true. That's one of the weirder things about the writing process--when those characters take on lives of their own. Beginning writers (at least ME, when I was a beginning writer) tried to rein that part in. You have this plan where you think things should go, and you try to force the characters to do it. Never works. Letting them go was a breakthrough for me, and eventually put me on the road to my first sale. Not that the road was a straight shot to publication...

Was it a long learning process for you too? How many books did you write before you got your first book deal?  How many rejections did you get along the way?

Holly: I honestly lost count of how many books I wrote.  And I know that I was rejected well over 1,000 times before I got my first yes—my first published book, A Blue So Dark, was actually rejected over 80 times.

I received my master’s degree in the spring of ’01.  Writing was always my lifelong dream; Mom invited me to stay home and devote full-time attention to getting my writing career off the ground.  I jumped at the chance, thinking it would take a year or so to get a book down, it’d sell (I’d actually placed short fiction, poetry, and literary critique in journals when I was still in college and honestly thought publication would be fairly easy), and then I’d have money in the bank and I’d be off and running.

…It actually took seven and a half years to get that first yes.  It was the time that bothered me, really, more than the number of rejections I received.  Each spring, another graduation season would roll around, and my friends from college would be closer to their own dreams—they wrapped up PhDs; they snagged full-time jobs.  And I felt like all I had to show for my time was a giant hole in the wall where I’d been slamming my head.

I had a few down-times in the pursuit of that first “yes.”  But I always pushed through it—mostly because I could feel I was getting closer with each rejection.  Over time, form rejections became personalized rejections became invitations to revise and resubmit…

The thing is, every author gets there eventually.  The only ones who don’t are the ones who give up.

Jody: I'm stunned that A Blue So Dark was rejected that many times. I'm so glad that you didn't quit submitting it. I guess it's easy to look back now and sort of gloss over the struggle, but as every writer knows, each one of those rejections is painful and has the potential to shoot you into a spiral of despair. You can't let it! You've got to keep writing and try to remember that each day it's just you and the blank page (or glaring computer screen)--whether you're the published author of multiple books or a collector of rejection slips. At least this is my mantra...

What's your writing day like? Do you have a schedule?

Holly: I do some work every single day.  “Work” never really does seem like the right word, though, does it?  I’ve been obsessed with books and literature ever since I was a little girl and had to have a new Little Golden Book each time I went to the supermarket with my mom!  Being a writer is my absolute dream job, and I have the Ultimate Luxury: I’m a full-time author.  Have been ever since ’01.  When I first started writing, though, I really hated the fact that I wasn’t contributing to the household.  So I started teaching music.  I figured it was the perfect balance: I could write all day, then start lessons late in the afternoon, when kids got out of school.

I was writing adult-level books when I first started out, back in ’01.  As soon as I started teaching music lessons, I was really struck by how similar my students were to the kids I’d gone to school with.  They were so familiar, in fact, that I was suddenly inspired to try my hand at writing for kids and teens.  It’s funny—I had no idea that teaching music lessons would give me a career direction.  But that just goes to show you that getting out there and trying new things, living your life, is just as important as putting words on the page!

These days, I average about eight hours a day writing. I also spend a significant amount of time on social networking and blogging—the hours I spend online actually outnumber the amount of time I spend writing each day when I’m actively promoting a new release.

Jody: I'm glad you brought up social media. I'm just dipping my toe into the marketing/self-promotion part of this business, and it's a little overwhelming. What's your experience?

Holly: Like all writers starting out, I had a miniscule promotional budget for my debut novel.  But I also drafted my first books on a real dinosaur of a computer—it was pre-Internet, didn’t even have a modem.  I didn’t get Internet in my home until ’07, believe it or not…and then I only used it for research and to submit work.  I had never, ever, ever done anything with social media when I signed my first book contract.

When my editor at Flux first suggested blogging, I cringed.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about putting myself online.  But that was when I discovered the book blogging community.  And I fell in love.  Since discovering the blogosphere, I’ve gone on extensive blog tours, and now administrate two group author blogs: YA Outside the Lines, for YA authors, and Smack Dab in the Middle, for MG authors.

I also feel really lucky to be writing at a time when I get to read not only trade reviews, but blog reviews as well.  I have Google Alerts out on my name and titles, and read everything that comes in.  I think that’s part of my job.  I feel so lucky that I get to be a fly on the wall, hearing online discussions of my books…and I feel ESPECIALLY lucky that I get a chance to meet and interact with my fabulous readers online.

Jody: That is the plus side of social media--creating a community of readers and writers. It did bring US together after all. Thanks, Holly, so much, for chatting with me today. Before I let you go, give me a rundown of where fans can find you.

Holly: Readers can get in touch through my website:, become a fan on Facebook:, follow me on Twitter: @holly_schindler, or email me directly: writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.  You can follow my author blog at or my group blogs at and If you'd like updates on me (or my books) please sign up for my newsletter!

Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura's dad left them. Convinced that "creative" equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

Praise: “Breathtakingly, gut-wrenchingly authentic… A haunting, realistic view of the melding of art, creativity, and mental illness and their collective impact on a young person’s life.
—Booklist starred review

Star basketball player Chelsea "Nitro" Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone's admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea's dad springs for a three-week summer "boot camp" program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she's immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who's haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?

Praise: “Loved Playing Hurt. You find yourself rooting for Chelsea and Clint from the moment they meet. And the writing? Wow. The writing was exceptional, and I must say, I've developed quite the writerly crush on Holly.”
—Jennifer L. Armentrout, Author of Young Adult and Adult Urban Fantasy and Romance

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dispatches from New York (In which I Wander the City Streets with my Best Friend, Brave the Cold to Take a Picture, Gush Like A Goofball to my Author Idol, and Remember Why I Love to Write for Children. PS. I also learn Julie Andrews' secret to writer's block)

The past four days I've been in NYC for an awesome SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference and my head is still spinning with the cool stuff I learned and the amazing people I met and chatted with (mostly in the long restroom lines between sessions). Now I'm home and contemplating the two tons of laundry I've got to do while watching the snow fall from my writerly perch on the couch, sweet doggie curled up on my lap.

Sometimes I fear that I border on agoraphobic. I live in my pajamas, for example. I rarely leave my home except to walk sweet doggie and/or cart my teen daughter around town. Soon I will not even do that. She has her driver's permit! She is counting down the days to getting her license! I am both relieved and appalled! My point is that I rarely take trips to New York City to shmooze with fellow book writers. It's costly. I know I will have to, um, wear non-pajama-like clothing. I enjoy this solitary curling up on the sofa kind of life where I get to write and read all day. When I chat with other writers, it is a virtual style of chatting, where I can plan out what I want to say and NOT say and generally present myself as a much cooler younger hipper version of my actual self (the one in the pajamas on the couch surrounded by laundry piles).

But, oh! I loved going to this conference. I could probably write 20 blog posts about all of the things I learned and all of the people I met. In fact, maybe I WILL write 20 posts, but for now, here is an overview before I forget:

1. The best thing about the trip was meeting up with my long time critique partner Donna. If you've been following this blog, you know that I met her in the port-a-potty line at another conference five years ago, and we have been emailing each other daily ever since, sharing our writing goals, critiquing each other's work, basking in each other's successes and sobbing over each other's near successes. I love Donna and simply would not be where I am in this writing journey without her. We spent two days together wandering around NYC. We drank coffee in a funky cafe. Shared a bottle of champagne at an elegant Italian restaurant. Sat on a bench near Central Park and made guesses about which passersby were native New Yorkers. Trekked like, 50 blocks up to the Simon & Schuster building in frigid blustery weather so Donna could take my picture with my dying cellphone.

I brought a stack of postcards printed up by my publishing company with me, but when push came to shove, I was feeling chicken-y about handing them out to strangers. Donna grabbed most of the stack and did the work for me. One of the highlights of my trip was talking to a fellow writer and noticing halfway through our conversation that he had a copy of MY postcard folded up and placed prominently in his name badge. (Donna had already gotten to him, you see.)

2. I don't know why I always forget how inspiring the speakers at these conferences are. I am a shameless author groupie. In fact I signed up for this particular conference specifically so I could see Meg Rosoff, the author of one of my favorite books of all time, How I Live Now. I read this novel a few years ago when I was at a low point, despairing about my chances for publication and feeling pessimistic about the state of YA literature in general. I was in a weird book slump, having the bad luck to pick up meh book after meh book, and then I picked up How I Live Now and was blown away. The book is brilliant and heartbreaking and funny. Impossible to characterize, so I won't. But it renewed my faith in writing and what good writing can do. I will never be as good of a writer as Meg Rosoff, but thank God, writers like Meg Rosoff exist in the world, is all I can say. Yes, I realize I am gushing like a goofball.

You should have seen me in NYC when I sat in the audience while Meg Rosoff gave the keynote speech. I laughed. I cried. I gave her a standing ovation. And you should have seen me when I spied Meg Rosoff standing at the bar, like, ten feet away from me, surrounded by Meg Rosoff groupies. I wanted to go up to her, but I didn't want to come off looking like a Meg Rosoff groupie. Donna suggested I go buy myself a drink so I could sidle closer. She gave me cash (I never carry cash) so I could buy a crazy expensive drink. I sidled. I forked over the 14 dollars for a drink. My eyes met Meg Rosoff's eyes. Boldly (yet shakily) I introduced myself. I told her I once reviewed her book. She kindly pretended that she remembered that review. I told her how much I loved her speech and her books. I told her I'd read her blog post about how she was 46 years old when she published How I Live Now and that was inspiring to me because I will be, um, 46 years old when my first book comes out in the fall.

She said, "Oh. What is the title of your book?"

I said "Thin Space" at the same moment that Donna, my loyal wingman, miraculously appeared at my side, postcard in hand. Donna pressed my postcard into Meg Rosoff's hand and Meg Rosoff said "The book cover is lovely."

I thanked her, blabbered for another minute about I don't know what, and then Donna and I drifted away and giggled like lunatics at the cupcake table.

3. Other speakers at this conference were inspiring too. Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of 30 books for children and fellow Ohioan, talked about the importance of stories in a world where books may be going out of style. I laughed and cried during her talk too. I was in awe of illustrators Shaun Tan and Mo Willems, great artists and thought-provoking and hilarious and moving speakers. These people reminded me why I love being part of the children's writers and illustrators community.

Sometimes--shockingly--we are disparaged. There are many people who actually believe that writing for children is somehow lesser than writing for adults, as if children don't deserve good literature, as if writing for younger humans is easier. Meg Rosoff spoke about this. She said something like, ask people you know what their favorite books are; ask them which books they read more than once and which books they remember and love. Chances are these books are children's books. They come into your life when you are still being formed and they change you. It is an awesome responsibility, she said, to be a writer for children. And there is nothing lesser or easy about it.

4. I guess I should mention that Julie Andrews was one of the speakers at the conference too. Julie Andrews wrote dozens of books with her stepdaughter and the two of them gave a presentation about how they collaborate on their many projects. OH MY GOD JULIE ANDREWS IS HERE, was something I heard quite a bit over the past few days. I also heard this: oh my god, julie andrews is here. 

She's a celebrity author, and it's not hard to wonder if she was given a break; if things were, in fact, easy for her in the publication journey. Yeah. Most assuredly. Still, it was cool to see the woman and to hear her talk in her familiar lilting Sound of  Music voice. At one point she mentioned that when she's stuck in a story, she will get up and go to the bathroom, and she nearly always finds the solution. The tweeters in the back of the conference hall were tweeting up a storm. Julie Andrews goes to the bathroom!! They tweeted, excitedly. And we all shared a collective laugh and sense of camaraderie with Julie Andrews, just another fellow writer for children.

5. Because I am like Julie Andrews, I went to the bathroom a lot during the conference. I met people in line who are just starting out on this potentially long and potentially soul-crushing journey. I slipped them my postcard and told them they should keep writing and working and dreaming. I met other people who have books out already and I picked their brains about publicity and social media and balancing writing with these other obligations. (Also, I slipped them my postcard.) I attended a session given by a veteran editor who once rejected something I wrote. She was beautiful and brilliant, reading passages from books she loved and talking about voice and texture and narrative layers. I went to a session presented by a newby editor-turned-agent, who was beautiful and brilliant and too new to have ever rejected me.

6. One night I wandered into a panel discussion on LGBTQ characters in children's literature. More on this in another post, but I was fascinated by the discussion and then amazed when I realized that the writers presenting just happened to be Jane Yolen, Bruce Coville, and Ellen Hopkins. I almost fell out of my chair.

7. On the flight home I chatted it up with a new friend--a YA writer just starting out. I gave her my last post card and then I settled into my cramped plane seat and read a young adult novel called Ask the Passengers by A. S. King. More on this book later, but holy moly, it was amazing. The main character, like so many of us humans, is struggling--with who she is, with what the point of life is, with what she wants to be and do. Sometimes, in despair, she lies outside on her picnic table and looks up at the sky. She waits for a plane to fly by and she sends the anonymous passengers in the plane her love.

I sat on my plane, reading about this girl and her painful and heartbreaking and hilarious story. For several hours she was real to me. When I closed the book, I was crying. I looked out the dark window and thought about the writer A. S. King. I imagined that I was flying over her in the dark, and I sent her my gratitude and love.